The Conflict, The Crisis, and the Kashmiri Youth

As part of my research work, I had a brief email correspondence with two Kashmiri students last year. Their short replies, I think, afford a glimpse of sorts in understanding those sublime aspects and implications of political uprisings which tend to remain obscured, or be taken for granted. I know just two anecdotes cannot be basis for generalization, but they seem to point to a broader phenomena, which may allow us to understand some of the aspects of the youth activism in the Indian-controlled Kashmir. The messages are produced verbatim here:

…just before 2016 unrest, I was alien to all the dirty kitchen politics and their executors, the freedom movement, the history of my nation, article 370, AFSPA, and so on. It so happened in these few months that I underwent such a psychological transformation that I seem to be more interested in the movement rather than science. (A female postgrad science student from Srinagar)

I am a 17-year-old. Although I have not seen the militancy era of Kashmir during the 90s but I’ve been witness to events like 2008, 2010, and the recent turmoil in 2016 in Kashmir. Like most of other Kashmiri kids, I became interested in words like ‘Freedom’….’Azadi’… ‘Pakistan’ ‘conflict’…etc. from my childhood. I first started writing when I was about 13 years old.   (A male teenage student from Srinagar)

When I read the first email for the first time I thought: here is a young Kashmiri reflecting on and, succinctly articulating, the state of affairs in her homeland. But as I came back to the message later, I realized that it says more. It does not just merely express peculiarities of the Kashmiri politics from a particular individual’s point of view, but it also talks about “a psychological transformation.”

And this concept of psychological transformation is an important one in case of Kashmir. It provides a potential clue about how a person turns into an active participant from being a passive bystander. Of course, this ‘active’ here does not mean political action on the streets but becoming conscious about the conflict, relating with it, and ultimately taking and articulating a position vis-a-vis the conflict.

The second email manifests a conflict narrative, which has its distinct vocabulary and lexicon. This narrative derives as much from the lived experiences of the military occupation as from the culture which enables this narrative.

In the remaining part of this short essay, I will first briefly discuss the idea of passivity in a military occupation, and then I will talk about the narrative culture, which a generation produces in the unique circumstances of its traumatic experience.

Passivity in a Context

When the female student (quoted above) talked about her psychological transformation, we can assume that there was a period of her political passiveness (conscious, cultivated, unconscious?) prior to the 2016 uprising. This preceding period of passivity can be analysed by borrowing the concept of crisis as context from the political anthropologist, Henrik Vigh (2008), who states: “We need to depart from our regular understanding of crisis and trauma as momentary and particularized phenomena and move toward an understanding of critical states as pervasive contexts rather than singular events.”

When a difficult situation (e.g., war, military occupation) perpetuates and normalises itself in a place over a time, it tends to make people, who live under its shadows, adapt to it (some get co-opted). However, that does not mean resistance against such condition terminates itself indefinitely. Adaptation under hard and chronic conditions can be seen as a strategic and pragmatic response imposed by mundane necessities of human survival. Since the crisis state is chronic, such a world is not characterised by order and balance but chaos and disorder, which has come to become ordered.

For at least last two generations of Kashmiris, the massively militarised space around them with around half a million Indian troops stationed in Kashmir in thousands of camps is symptomatic of a pervasive context of crisis, where the state inflicts violence on Kashmiri body and psyche on almost daily basis. For young Kashmiris, who grew up in a condition of chronic crisis, the killings, the shootings, the arbitrary detentions, the humiliations, the protests may not seem a disruption of ‘order’ rather an order itself; these may not be aberrant shocking events in an otherwise smooth flow of things. In other words, these events represent, in Vigh’s terms, “…not a short-term explosive situation but a much more durable and persistent circumstance.” In a similar vein, Walter Benjamin writes in his essay, “Theses on the Philosophy of History” (1950): “The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule.”

From the perspective of the Kashmiri youth, their context looks like as one of constant war – because of the seeming irresolution of the Kashmir conflict and the enduring military occupation – and their own condition a state of helplessness to balance and control the exterior forces that influence and affect their possibilities and choices. This exterior force, from their perspective, manifests itself in the form of the militarized spaces, the securitised administration and policies, and the denial of autonomous politics. And, therefore, “[a]s people have to work regaining their possibilities and positions within their social environments,” two crises interact here: societal crisis and the personal crisis. This phenomenon may explain why there is a mental health crisis in the Kashmir valley, with nearly 93% percent people having “experienced conflict-related trauma.”

Moments of Clarity

While some societies may take a long time to externalise their resistance, resistance does find ways to nurture itself through underground and other activities. For example, the Clandestine Press in the Vichy France of the early 1940s. James Scott calls it infrapolitics, which entails concealed, strategic forms of resistance. And in some cases, after a period of latency, resistance manifests itself, when the ‘normalised situation’ is consciously and forcefully disturbed through direct action and the essential nature of the relationship between the occupied and the occupier made evident, thereby revealing the ‘moment of clarity’. During these moments, adaptively pragmatic attitude to the ‘normalised situation’ (of military occupation) is replaced, en masse, by a more proactive resistant assertiveness.  The summer uprisings of 2008, 2010, and 2016 in the Indian-controlled Kashmir can be regarded as those moments of clarity in which the essentially forced relationship between India and Kashmir manifested itself.

The generation that experiences the moments of clarity potentially also produces a unique culture because many of them might internalise the consciousness related to the traumatic event. In Edmunds and Turner’s (2002) conceptualisation, “a generation can be defined in terms of a collective response to a traumatic event or catastrophe that unites a particular cohort of individuals into a self-conscious age stratum.”[1] It is traumatic events (wars, conflicts, economic downturns, etc.) that produce a profound effect on a generation’s consciousness and self-identity. The experiences of trauma are internalized and get sublimated into a unique set of values, interests, and political activities, separating one generation from another generation’s past and becoming “the basis of a collective ideology and a set of integrating rituals.”[2]

Here one can find echoes of Pennebaker and Banasik (1997), who argued that not all historical events register themselves in collective memory of people but only those events that significantly impact the course of people’s lives in long term and bring major institutional changes. They also postulated that national events of significance have much more impact on people of a certain age group (between 12 and 25). But in temporal proximity of the event, the affected generation tends to keep a distance from commemorating it, because coming to terms with the event itself takes away much of time and energy, and also lack of resources (financial, social, and political) does not allow it. I think in the present age, this latter aspect (of commemoration) has changed as social media has become part of the social fabric affording easy and cheaper ways to document and remember.

Though significant traumatic events like uprisings do not occur frequently, but political resistance through formal and informal networks, general strikes – in the last 27 years, from 1990 to 2016, hartal [general strike] has been observed over 2000 times against many events and incidents – curfews, state-imposed restrictions and other aspects of the military occupation, in general, effects a persistent traumatic condition in which not only this narrative culture reinforces itself but also the self-identity of the youth which gets shaped in the process. Though identities (ethnic, gender, class, vocational, etc.) are fluid which can potentially revise over time among the young adults, traumatic events or moments of clarity may accentuate a core identity.

Ultimately, what I tried to point at with the aid of two illustrative quotes above is that pervasive context of crisis affects the possibilities and choices of the youth and their expectations, convictions, desires, anxieties and fears, reflected not only in the political action (like street protests and stone pelting) but also in the narratives and accounts that they produce in response to this context of chronic crisis, which also shapes their self-identity. In the event of a significant political tumult (like uprisings), pragmatic adaptation to the conflict and the concomitant psychological detachment from its politics seem to get ruptured among some passive bystanders, who eventually become manifestly political.

[1] Edmunds and Turner, Generations, Culture and Society (2002), p. 13.

[2] Ibid, p. 13-14.

First published on Cafe Dissensus Magazine, 20 Feb 2017:


Book Review: Understanding Kashmir and Kashmiris

In the burgeoning field of the Kashmir studies, Christopher Snedden, an Australian researcher and politico-strategic analyst, made a major contribution in 2012 with his “…most authoritative modern history” of Azad Kashmir: The Untold Story of the People of Azad Kashmir (Hurst & Company, London). Based on a wide array of empirical sources, coupled with an insightful narrative, the book argued that the Kashmir dispute was instigated by the people of Poonch area of the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir weeks before the infamous tribal invasion. Given the delicate sensitivities which the term ‘Azad Kashmir’ can cause among many Indian officials, the title of the book had to be tweaked when it was published in India, which often make people think Snedden has written three books on Kashmir.


Whereas the previous book had a specific focus on Azad Kashmir, in Understanding Kashmir and Kashmiris, the canvas has been widened to include not only all the regions of the erstwhile J&K but also the important historical background and context, which, Snedden claims, is often missing in many existing works on the subject. Thus, over sixty pages in the beginning, he sketches “Important Antecedents” of the Kashmir conflict, harking back to the “Great Game” (between Britain and Russia), the evolution of formidable Gulab Singh and his kinsmen in the Sikh Empire (1799-1849), the British support for the new Dogra state and the centrality of the Kashmir valley in it and reasons for its “endearing and enduring fame.”

Like all researchers, Snedden too faced the challenge of terminology, more so because the Indian side, he says, is “very sensitive and insistent” with terminologies. Certain terms used about Kashmir can certainly be politically-loaded (e.g., ‘Indian-held Kashmir’ or ‘Pakistan-occupied Kashmir’), which is the reason why international media and academics usually prefer the more neutral terms like ‘Indian-administered’ or ‘Pakistan-controlled’. Apart from ‘conflict’, at least five other terms are also used regarding Kashmir: Issue, dispute, occupation, problem, and question. And, as rightly pointed out by Snedden, terminology confuses people about the geography of the region. For example, Kashmir is often used as an encompassing term for the entire J&K. So, eventually, he settles for ‘Indian J&K’ and ‘Azad Kashmir’, and while referring to the people of the entire (erstwhile) J&K, he uses the novel term ‘J&K-ites’.

As in his previous book, Snedden reiterates his empirically-backed argument: that it was J&K-ites who, because of their “three significant actions,” activated the dispute over the status of Jammu and Kashmir. But, Pakistan seem to have strangely acquiesced to the Indian narrative of tribal invasion, thus allowing the latter to garner diplomatic leverage on the Kashmir conflict. Snedden maintains that what precluded an independent J&K in 1947 was that the last Maharaja Hari Singh, like other rulers, “had not moved with the times by converting themselves into popular administrators running robust economies, empowering their subjects, and able to withstand losing the unequivocal, often uncritical, British support that had nurtured and protected their regimes” (p. 153). It was the lack of this political capital which presented itself as the “greatest problem” for Maharaja to take an assured decision on time; the state’s ethnic and religious heterogeneity meant differing political aspirations, which undercut the political unity, if any existed.

Snedden views things from a larger geo-strategic perspective. So while his book surely provides an informed understanding of the Kashmir conflict, it leaves out the important aspects about its central protagonists: Kashmiris. As a historian with a geo-strategic bent of mind, Snedden has a sharp eye for details, yet the native politics and political culture has escaped it, which makes the latter part of the book’s title—Kashmiris—seem not fully justified. If the stated objective of the book is to understand Kashmiris, then why isn’t there a detailed section on the social, economic and political aspects of the Kashmiri society and the structural determinants of its political culture? A nuanced discussion on the pro-Tehreek political formations and the post-2008 anti-India uprisings would have greatly enriched the narrative on the internal dynamics of the conflict, but it is missing. Such omissions may be due to Snedden’s statist perspective on the Kashmir conflict, a dominant approach in the Kashmir studies. It becomes evident when he echoes political scientists like Sumit Ganguly (1996) and Sumantra Bose (1997): “Coupled with the dilution of Indian J&K’s supposed autonomy under Article 370 and high unemployment among the well-educated Kashmiri youth, this ‘denial of democracy’ and the associated brutal repression of Kashmiris unwilling to accept the rigged polls [of 1987], were the final straw” (p.202).

As John Cockell (2000) argues, such analyses are problematic because they “employ precast statist parameters of inquiry,” i.e., though acknowledging the state wrongdoings and failure of institutions, they effectively deny the Kashmiri community “any autonomous political agency outside of that defined by these institutions, failed or otherwise.” Cockell calls for decentered perspective which considers historical pattern of alternative, extra-systemic political formations which manifest subaltern insurgent consciousness or socio-cultural identity. For example, National Conference (before 1947), Plebiscite Front (after 1955), JKLF and various protest groups (in 1970’s), MUF (1980’s), and Hurriyat (1990’s onwards).

Departing from the dominant perspectives within the Kashmir studies, Cockell posits that the Kashmiri community’s sense of collective self-identity and group security collides with the post-colonial state’s institution-specific understanding of legitimacy of dissent. The irreconcilability between the two creates the structural paralysis, which “creates a vacuum in which coercion and oppression appear to be the only options open to the state ruling elite.” The Azadi movement’s confrontation with the structures of the state “is evidence not of pre-political or anti-democratic action but rather an effort to create decentered forms of autonomous political participation, and a popular repudiation of statist discourses claiming a monopoly on legitimate democratic process.”

However, since the dominant discourses of statist politics influence the content of the movement, it renders the latter “inevitably discontinuous and internally conflicted,” and within this dynamic condition, some political formations lose their legitimacy when they get compromised “by their engagement with the state and its dominant discourses” (e.g., the Plebiscite Front, the People’s Conference etc.). And, in this process of rupture in the subaltern political mobilization, disillusionment with non-violent methods develops among some sections, eventually giving rise to militancy.

Interestingly, when talking about the human rights violations in Kashmir, Snedden skirts the well-documented reports of Asia Watch, Amnesty International (1998, 2008, 2011), Physicians for Human Rights (1993) etc., and instead relies on a “semi-official Indian” source (pp.251, 253).

The aspirations of the people of Kashmir gets a mention, but how these aspirations manifest themselves politically haven’t been adequately dealt with. People are presumed to have political aspirations but without a political history, culture and organization.

While, overall, the narrative maintains a reasonable, impartial voice, yet at certain places bias against the Pakistani side props up: “aloof and arrogant leader of Muslim League”, “opportunistic”, “arrogant army”, “cocky, even truculent [army]”, “brash Foreign Minister”, “duplicitous”, “frustrated revisionist nation”, to name but a few.

Furthermore, certain assertions about Kashmir seem to overlook the nature of the conflict. For example, when Snedden says, “By about 1999-2000, many fatigued Kashmiris simply wanted peace and normalcy to return to their region” (p.250), he uncritically accepts the state narrative of “return to normalcy.” The pro-Tehreek Kashmiris would find such a statement problematic because in a politically-charged space like Kashmir, the terms like “peace”, “normalcy” and “return” have political connotations: it assumes that there was a period of normalcy before it was disturbed through the armed movement of 1990’s, and it also implies that in the pre-armed movement ‘normalcy’ period, the status quo was generally acceptable.

Like many authors, Snedden also provides his suggestions on how to resolve the Kashmir conflict. For him, the blame lies equally with India and Pakistan because they are intransigent states who are obsessed with Kashmir—though he cites fourteen events between1950-2005, which, he claims, “could have altered the…status quo.” The international powers have no compelling reasons to intervene either. So, the best way is to “Let the people decide,” which means let the J&K-ites, as the first party to the Kashmir dispute, discuss the issue among themselves and arrive at a solution; this approach is reasonable “simply because this dispute is about their state and their homelands.”

When proposing his “Let the people decide approach”, Snedden theoretically departs from Mathew Webb (2012) and Neera Chandhoke (2012), who argued about Kashmiris’ right to secede. Whereas Webb’s advocacy for right to “secede” is based on the “just cause” theory, Chandhoke opposes this right and advocates providing justice within the existing institutions. In contrast, Snedden does not seem to invoke the legal concept of ‘right’, rather his position is pragmatically oriented. It is based on the idea that because India and Pakistan seem unable to resolve the Kashmir conflict, “perhaps, J&K-ites can.”

One of the interesting sections in the book is its eight page long concluding chapter, where Snedden’s politico-strategic vision reveals itself forcefully. His “strategic ponderings” suggest that “nothing stays the same forever” and, considering this natural law, the status quo in the South Asian region, including Kashmir, will change, inevitably. And, “One thing seems certain: population growth and increasing water issues will plague the subcontinent in the years to come…”

In the final analysis, Snedden’s political narrative “for a more generalist audience,” is well-researched and lucidly written, and his analysis is incisive. The book provides rich historical details and deftly unravels the political and diplomatic intricacies involved in the Kashmir conflict.


First published in the Kashmir Ink magazine on 9 May 2017:

The false narrative of invoking Dogra pride

On 24 January 2017, 11 politicians in Jammu and Kashmir managed to pass a resolution in the 36-member J&K Legislative Council, urging the PDP-BJP coalition government to declare 23 September a public holiday in honour of the last king of the State, Maharaja Hari Singh, who was born on that date in 1895.

Expectedly, the resolution has sparked a political controversy. Some people even accused the National Conference, NC, currently in opposition in the State assembly, and which has eight members in the Legislative Council, of acquiescing to this controversial resolution. Because together with Congress, which has seven members, the two parties (NC and Congress) have a considerable presence in the Council. But on the day of the resolution, they remained absent and made it possible for the 11 members from the ruling coalition (which includes eight members of BJP) to pass it by a voice vote. Three members voted against it. Many of the PDP’s 11 members, of course including Hari Singh’s grandson Vikramadatiya Singh, supported the resolution. PDP MLC Firdous Ahmad Tak and the house leader, Naeem Akhtar joined the BJP members in praising Hari Singh’s contribution to J&K. But since the State already observes 28 public holidays in a year, further increase was not feasible, reasoned Naeem Akhtar. Now, the resolution is pending the approval of the cabinet, and, in the meantime, the two grandsons of Hari Singh have warned of an agitation if the resolution is not approved by the government. 

Purpose of holidays?

Due to their engagement in the mundane chores of daily life, people tend to follow an individualistic course. So, holidays provide an occasion whereby they can reaffirm their shared values and beliefs. However, State can also use holidays to project a certain image of the nation, because holidays are instrumental in recreating the past in a selective way. Thus, holidays become a tool of nation-building. Many scholars (David Cressy 1994; Charles Turner 2006; Sripura Roy 2007; Laura Adams 2010) have worked on this theme. Ali Usman Qasmi (2017) uses the concept of calendar holidays to understand how national identity of Pakistan is formed, and he shows how “various identarian values, political considerations and social processes play an important part” in this process. This means deliberate selection of certain events and figures (who are accorded prestige eventually) and the willful neglect of others. The ultimate purpose is to foster what Zerubavel (1995) calls “the master commemorative narrative” which is used to channel a certain ideology and political message. But it can always be challenged or modified, as the Turkish administration did under the present president Recep Tayyib Erdogan by celebrating the Ottoman past, which was neglected by the Kemalists who took over from the Ottoman rulers. 

In the case of Jammu and Kashmir, the system of state holidays plays a function of reiterating its secular image, which means events and figures related to different religious communities are commemorated and thus ascribed solemnity.

But the question is: does Hari Singh deserve a state holiday in his name? And, why is this agenda being pushed by the Jammu-based groups? I will try to address these questions in turn.

Legacy of the Gulab Singh’s Dynasty Rule

Many historians say that Gulab Singh was an able military man but a shrewd, crafty intriguer, and his rule in general was characterised by exploitation of peasantry in all regions of his kingdom. His rule was also a period of economic and political repressions (Bazaz 1954; Rai 2004; Snedden 2015).  From being a young sepoy in the Sikh Empire in 1809, he rose to become one of the influential generals in Ranjit Singh’s Lahore Durbar (1799-1849), because he could put down local rebellions and extract revenues, and knew how to advance his interests. He purchased the Kashmir Valley from the money he looted from the Sikh empire (Snedden 2015). Bawa Satinder Singh in his biography The Jammu Fox (1974) calls Gulab Singh a “veritable economic vampire.” For Christopher Snedden (2015 book), the British were convinced to handover the Kashmir Valley to Gulab Singh because “he was best placed to effectively control Kashmir and look after British interests there.”

As per the veteran communist and former NC leader Krishen Dev Sethi, it was Gulab Singh and his two brothers Suchet and Dhyan Singh who were instrumental in “crushing the resistance movement of Jammu for getting favours from the Lahore Darbar.” Gulab Singh had killed Mian Diddo, who was leading the anti-Durbar resistance movement, thus marking “the start of first of Gulab Singh’s many treasons with Jammu,” (Kashmir Life: 2 Feb 2017).

Finally, Sethi asks how can Gulab Singh and his kinsmen be heroes when they had formalised a shameful agreement which not only “affirm their loyalty to the Khalsa Sarkar and agreed to pay annual gifts,” but “also agreed to send girls to Lahore Darbar from Jammu.” Besides, Gulab Singh dynasty rule was not a Dogra rule, but a Jamwal-Rajput rule, i.e., a dominant caste rule. If these rulers exploited the Muslim peasantry and craftsmen, they didn’t spare the suppressed castes among Hindus either. Sethi cites certain Dogri poems and phrases which talk about the tyrannous rule of Gulab Singh and his kinsmen.      

Gulab Singh’s successors Ranbir and Pratap didn’t do anything substantially progressive or emancipatory during their reign either. Ranbir is credited with introducing a juridical system Ranbir Penal Code RPC in 1870’s, but Pratap is held directly responsible for causing enormous loss of life during the 1877-79 famine in which, as per Sir Walter Lawrence (1895), only two-fifths survived of the total population in Kashmir (p.213). This tragic event birthed a Kashmiri proverb “Drag tsalih ta dagh tsali na!” (famine may leave, but the pain will never go away!).

WITH DAGGERS DRAWN: Hari Singh’s dogra forces outside Jamia Masjid, Srinagar after the 1931 massacre Photo: Kashmir Research Centre

The Role of The State Council in Reforms

Since the inception of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, the colonial British government intervened many times to influence the State’s administrative decisions, largely based on its own strategic considerations. However, in 1889, the British Indian government, as a Paramount power, significantly restricted the sovereignty of Maharaja Pratap Singh by establishing the State Council (1889-1905) in Jammu and Kashmir, through which some very important reforms were started in key areas of education, land, roads and military. Maharaja Pratap Singh had no choice but to support the new measures because the Paramount power had put pressure on him (Zutshi 1986). It was the State Council who appointed Sir Walter Lawrence as the Settlement Commissioner, which initiated the earlier land reforms. And it was the State Council which set up the rules in 1891 and 1904 that ensured at least some kind of reservation for the natives in the state services. It was these initial reforms started by the State Council that Pratap and Hari Singh formalised later because the Paramount power directed them to do so.   

It is important to point out that though British had strategic concerns in starting these reforms, but the Muslim subjects of the State welcomed the State Council. This is evident in the 1909 petition which a thirty-seven-member representatives of the Muslim community sent to the Private Secretary of the Viceroy: “No sooner the Kashmir Resudency [sic] was established here that the things took a turn for the better.” In the wake of the July 1931 killings by Hari Singh’s soldiers, the appointment of Glancy Commission was also a British colonial government intervention. So, one should keep in mind the British factor while talking about the reforms in the pre-1947 Jammu and Kashmir which are sometimes wrongly attributed to Hari Singh.

To be sure, Hari Singh, who became the ruler in Sep 1925, was relatively progressive, as he modernised his State and supported the State Council’s reform programmes. But to say he did not discriminate against any religious community is not factually correct. For example, in 1931, he allowed three political parties — Kashmiri Pandit Conference, the Hindu Sabha, and the Shirmoni Khalsa Darbar, but clearly left the majority Muslim population without an organised political party (Korbel 1954). As per the 1932 Glancy Commission report, there were only 718 Muslim teachers out of 2201 in the State. In 1931, only 2052 Muslims were employed in mid and high-rank state services out of 8683 and out of 355 gazetted posts, only 55 were held by Muslims. There were 5200 Hindu grain and pulses dealers as against 1091 Muslims. The State Arms Act allowed only Dogras and Rajputs to own fire arms. Though 73% population was dependent of agriculture, ownership of land was held by assamidars (landlords) and the de facto owner was the ruler.

There wasn’t much improvement in the socio-economic conditions of Muslims and Scheduled Castes even after a decade of Hari Singh’s reign. The 1941 census shows that out of a 4 million population, 77% were Muslims, but only 4% Muslims and 1.5% Scheduled Castes were literate. The total literacy rate was just around 7%. Freedom of press and freedom of assembly was highly restricted. For example, between 1943-44, Muslim-owned newspapers like Jamhoor, Itihaad and Al-Mujahid were banned, while as Hamdard (edited by Prem Nath Bazaz) was heavily fined (Durrani 2004).

The resignation of Prime Minister of the State Sir Albion Banerjee on 15 March 1929 was further indictment of a discriminatory system, which led Banerjee to say, “Jammu and Kashmir State is labouring under many disadvantages, with a large Muhammadan population absolutely illiterate, labouring under poverty and very low economic conditions of living in the villages and practically governed like dumb-driven cattle.”

The 1931 political upsurge provides a clear indication that Hari Singh administration was discriminatory. This fact also becomes evident in the Glancy Commission report of 1932, which recommended measures for the improvement of the Muslim community and non-interference in their religion.   

It was the tumults of post-1931 which pressurised the Maharaja to appoint a Franchise Committee under Sir Barjor Dalal, which recommended a Legislative Assembly. Eventually, the 75-member Praja Sabha (People Assembly) was established under the Constitutional Act (22 April 1934) but it had only recommendatory powers as under section 3, the Maharaja “reserved in himself all of his pre-existing powers.” Moreover, 35 members were nominated by the Maharaja and only 8% population was eligible to vote, because one had to have $1500 worth of property and be literate to have voting rights. Women had no voting rights at all. Even though the Jammu and Kashmir Constitutional Act (Sep 1939) conceded certain privileges to Praja Sabha in theory, still Maharaja could overrule in almost all matters. For example, the High Court was not the final arbiter of the Constitution or the Praja Sabha had the right to discuss the State budget but couldn’t vote against it. This was the reason that the Supreme Court of India observed in 1952: “it [the 1939 Constitution] did not constitute even a partial surrender by His Highness of his sovereign rights in favour of the Praja Sabha.”

And yet, the most significant event that casts serious doubt about his secular credentials is his role in the horrific massacre of the Jammu Muslims in 1947. Over 200,000 Muslims were killed and driven out from the eastern Jammu province under his nose, altering the demographics in Jammu region: from 44% Muslims in 1941 to only 27% in 2011.   

So, those who cite examples of his developmental projects need to answer this: can we measure a ruler’s legacy only by the narrow parameters of material development while ignoring the moral and ethical responsibilities which seem to have been willfully neglected by him during the critical moments of 1947? Moreover, why did Nehru admonish him in a letter for only talking about his dynasty’s rights while neglecting the rights of his subjects?

Political Economy of the Revisionist History

That Hari Singh’s heirs would try to build a positive image of their family rule is understandable. But this whole campaign can be seen from a political economy perspective also. Both brothers Ajatshatru and Vikramadatiya Singh hold significant positions of trustees in the influential Jammu and Kashmir Dharmath Trust, one of the largest religious managing bodies. Apart from a school and a research center, the Dharmath Trust controls over 175 temples (including Raghunath temple in Jammu and Kheer Bhawani in Kashmir). And annually, it generates millions of rupees.

The Dharmath Trust was liberally utilised by Maharaja Pratap Singh to fund the construction of numerous temples and religious ventures to recreate Banaras in Jammu. Till 1935, the Dharmath Trust was managed by the State government. However, in 1959, Hari Singh appointed his son Karan Singh as the sole trustee of the re-constituted Dharmath Council. Currently, the organisation is composed of Karan Singh as its Chairman Trustee, his two sons as trustees, while for a five-member council eminent members of Jammu society are appointed. The Singh brothers belong to a dominant caste in Jammu: Jamwal-Rajput. The Kashmiri Pandits have tried to challenge the hold of Rajput Jamwals over the Trust by filing a PIL in May 2012, urging the government to takeover the organisation. But the State government objected to it (Outlook, May 19, 2012). This has created acrimony between the two groups to the point that the president of the Dharmath Trust issued a veiled threat to Kashmiri Pandits in May 2015, “Attempts by a section of the Kashmiri Pandits who are living securely in the Dogra heartland to vilify Dr. Karan Singh and the Dharmarth Trust are highly condemnable and will be counterproductive for the community,” (U4UVoice, 6 May 2015).    

So, it seems there is what French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu terms as ‘social, cultural and economic capital’ is at stake here. For Hari Singh’s heirs and those related to them in class and caste, the Dharmath Trust and their lineage is an indispensable part of their capitals. To reproduce these capitals, a positive image of lineage is essential for legitimacy and wider respect. This movement to re-package Jamwal-Rajput monarchs as Dogra heroes is done by invoking Dogra pride, a strategy to make all sections of the Jammu society part of it, by framing the issue as “about the pride of Jammu region.” In this process, eliding the history of oppression against the Scheduled Castes and Muslims of Jammu.

This subtle imposition of dominant caste symbolisms and meanings obscure power relations in the Jammu society, because it is considered legitimate by other groups once “pride of Jammu region” is invoked. And all this is done through a process of what Bourdieu calls misrecognition: “The process whereby power relations are perceived not for what they objectively are but in a form which renders them legitimate in the eyes of the beholder.”      

Since the early 2000’s, a kind of public relations campaign was started to resurrect the image of Jamwal-Rajput rulers, who remain largely unpopular in the history or at least unpopular among a large section of people in Jammu and Kashmir and beyond. During Mufti Sayeed’s first term as the Chief Minister, a Maharaja Gulab Singh Chair was set up in University of Jammu headed by a Chair Professor. Siddiq Wahid, former vice-chancellor of IUST and the former BJP member Prof Hari Om have served this position in turns. Reportedly, vice-chancellor of Jammu University Prof Amitabh Matoo (2002-2008) had “set a condition of quitting ‘active politics’ to Prof Hari Om before joining the Jammu University again on a two years’ contract for the prestigious Gulab Singh chair” ( 22 August 2007). In Sep 2006, senior NCP leader from Jammu, Thakur Randhir Singh, asked for Maharaja Hari Singh Chair in Jammu University and a chapter in history textbooks to highlight the “glorious achievements” of the last monarch which had been, as per Ranbhir Singh, conspiratorially hidden (Greater Kashmir: 26 Sep 2006). In October 2009, a commemorative postage stamp on Maharaja Gulab Singh was released by Indian Postal Services. Ironically, Gulab and Ranbir Singh were staunch British allies during British colonisation of the sub-continent. The initial successes of this PR campaign led Manu Khajuria write in 2015,: “Though most historians have wronged Maharaja Hari Singh, more have now arisen to counter it, not in an attempt to seek a consensus, but because they believe that there are two sides to every story,” (Daily O, 21 Sep 2015). In her column, Manu tried to portray a distinctly favourable image of Hari Singh, showing him as a progressive, secular, and visionary king. But, since her column was more of a hagiography, it was obviously self-defeating.  But ultimately, the 2016 resolution was initiated by Hari Singh’s 51-year-old grandson Ajatshatru Singh, who is a BJP-nominated Member of J&K Legislative Council. Ironically, he had served as a minister of state in the National Conference government (1996-2002) before joining BJP in November 2015. While his elder brother and hotelier, Vikramadatiya Singh, is a member of PDP since August 2015.

National Conference’s Devender Singh Rana supported the resolution of declaring Hari Singh’s birthday as a state holiday and may have also played a role in convincing his party members to let the resolution pass. And it won’t be unreasonable to speculate that Vikramadatiya Singh’s presence in PDP was a strategic move to lobby for this latest resolution. If that was the intention, then Rajput-Jamwal’s have achieved the first step. Fortuitously, in Mehbooba Mufti they are likely to find a willing partner to fulfill their plan, probably subject to a quid pro quo.   

But, if the J&K cabinet ultimately announces 23 September as a state holiday, would it mean that Hari Singh embodies principles and values that people in Jammu and Kashmir commonly share? Would it mean they share the same understanding of history as far as Hari Singh’s rule is concerned? If not, then a reasonable solution, to avoid an imminent agitation from Jammu, would be to make it a restricted holiday, confined to Jammu region only. It would be hypocritical and an anti-thesis to the State’s own narrative to have a state holiday on 23 Sep following the state holiday on 13 July commemorating those who were killed by the Hari Singh administration on 13 July 1931.

Muhammad Tahir is a Ph.D researcher at Dublin City University, Ireland


Abdul Qayoom Durrani, “Sahafat-e-Kashmir,” Izhaar Sons, Lahore: 2004.

Christopher Snedden, “Understanding Kashmir and Kashmiris,” Hurst and Company: London, 2015.

Mridu Rai, “Hindu Rulers, Muslim Subjects: Islam, Rights, and the History of Kashmir,” Orient Blackswan: New Delhi, 2004.

Muhammad Yusuf Saraf, “Kashmiris Fight for Freedom,” Ferozsons Ltd.: Lahore, 2005

Pierre Bourdieu and Jean-Claude Passeron, “Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture,” Sage: London, 1977.

Prem Nath Bazaz, “The History of Struggle for Freedom in Kashmir,” Pamposh Publication: New Delhi, 1954.

Ali Usmani Qasmi, “Identity formation through national calendar: holidays and commemorations in Pakistan,” Nations and Nationalism, 16 Feb 2017.

Upendra Kishen Zutshi, “Emergence of Political Awakening in Kashmir,” Manohar: New Delhi, 1986.

Walter Roper Lawrence, “The Valley of Kashmir,” H. Frowde: London, 1895.

“J&K Dharmarth Trust tears into Kashmiri Pandit Organization accusations,” U4UVoice, 6 May 2015,

“J&K: BJP leader Prof. Hari Om retires from active politics,” Two Circles, 22 August 2007,

“PIL Filed for Take Over of Dharmarth Trust by J&K Govt,” Outlook, 19 May 2012,

“Hari Singh’s Birthday: Family scions to launch agitation if Sep 23 is not declared state holiday,” Kashmir Life, 20 Feb 2017,

Krishan Dev Sethi, “Hari Singh a despot, not a hero,” Kashmir Life, 2 Feb 2017,

Manu Khajuria, “Hari Singh was more than a Hindu king who ruled over a Muslim majority state,” Daily O, 21 Sep 2015,


First published in the Kashmir Narrator on 25 April 2017:

Is Rumi an anti-dote for the post-truth America?


On January 5, 2017, the New Yorker published an article with a revealing title: “The Erasure of Islam from the Poetry of Rumi.” Rozina Ali—who is also the editorial staff of the magazine—raised an interesting issue: that in the West, Rumi, the 13th-century poet and scholar, is “typically referred to as a mystic, a saint, an enlightened man” but “less frequently described as a Muslim.” 

Ali’s contention is that Rumi’s poetry has been decoupled by his English translators from its Islamic context, and that way they have effaced “historical dynamism” within the Muslim scholarship. Because “Rumi’s works reflected a broader push and pull between religious spirituality and institutionalised faith” in the Islamic civilisation.

Ali quotes Omid Safi, a professor of Islamic studies at Duke University, who believes that reading Rumi without the Holy Quran is akin to reading Milton without the Bible; and, while one can appreciate Rumi’s heterodoxy but at the same time that heterodoxy has to be contextualised within the Islamic history. And such contextualisation allows readers to appreciate that the Islamic culture in the thirteenth century “had room for such heterodoxy”. And, that an Islamic scholar of Sharia could also write widely read poetry of love.

Ali’s article has its own context. In the post-truth culture that has apparently ceased the present times coupled with the vicious anti-Muslim discourse that permeates many western and non-western societies, Rumi has assumed a new meaning: a symbol of Muslim contribution to civilisation. What Ali implies is that Rumi can serve as a potent example to counter those—she, for example, cites the US national security advisor General Michael Flynn—who seems ill-disposed towards Islam or tends to believe that non-western people have no contribution to civilisation.

Problematising the issue 

So, paradoxically, Rumi should be depoliticised—since the Muslim context of his poetry was apparently effaced by the Victorian period translators on purpose—to be used as a political symbol in the Trump era. In effect, Ali’s article has two concerns: translation and Islamophobia. The first issue is essentially of an academic nature and the second one is clearly political.

While Coleman Barks is credited with popularising Rumi in the US— “morphing Rumi into American verse”—but he is also blamed for minimising the Islamic references in Rumi’s poetry and thus effacing its cultural context. And some others have resorted to what Professor Safi calls as a kind of “spiritual colonialism,” like Deepak Chopra and Daniel Ladinsky, who market and sell their unique interpretive works as Rumi books.

By not remaining faithful to the original, what is lost—in such translations—is the culture, tradition, and memory which a work of art carries within it. Thus, Ali cautions that,

“As conduits between two cultures, translators take on an inherently political project.”

But when we talk about the correct reading or the correct translation, the concept of authority of text comes to the fore and on that Roland Barthes (1967) argues that text has an independent existence of its own, and it is language and not the author which speaks. The culture and personality of an author should be discarded when interpreting a text, because the text is inherently multivalent and there is no one universal meaning in its language.

On a somewhat more mystical plane, Walter Benjamin in his famous essay The Task of the Translator (1926) says that,

“In translation the original rises into a higher and purer linguistic air…” or translation makes visible “the predestined, hitherto inaccessible realm of reconciliation and fulfilment of languages.”

Thus, from the Benjamin’s perspective, even if Islamic references are minimised in Rumi’s poetry, the translation still captures or transmits the elemental mystery which does not necessarily come from the subject matter.

While Ali’s emphasis on the faithful translation of Rumi’s poetry—which means incorporating Islamic context—may not preclude its secular reading, but such contextualisation can enable or enhance what Benjamin calls its cult value. And from the vantage point of the cult value, it is the existence of Rumi’s Masnavi (“The Quran in Persian Language”) that matters rather than its literary value. But the traditional aesthetics of “eternal value and mystery,” Benjamin cautions us, are susceptible to appropriation by fascistic and bourgeoisie ideologies.

This aspect still seems less of Ali’s concern than the politics of translation and its expediency in the current environment of pervasive Islamophobia. This takes us to the key question: whether the Islamic context of Rumi would make a difference to anti-Muslim views? And I am a bit sceptical about that.

Because even though Ali’s idea might not be completely beyond the pale, the issue is not as simple as it may seem. The first thing that we need to understand is that Islamophobia is well-entrenched in the West’s psyche, the reasons for which goes far back to its Orientalist tradition which viewed Islam with some degree of suspicion.

As Edward Said brilliantly explained in his book Orientalism (1978), the certain negative representation of the oriental people (including Muslims) and their cultures served to justify colonial imperialism and to build a positive self-image of Europeans as enlightened and cultured. In the present times, such negative representations of Muslims have a market (it is more exciting and sellable for corporate media) and geopolitical utility (to make militaristic Middle East policies more palatable to the public). Anti-Muslim views persist, because the media and academia plays a big role in it.

The 1988 and 1996 survey studies demonstrate that negative perceptions regarding Muslims were quite prevalent even before 9/11. That event alone just pushed open the floodgates of anti-Muslim views and gave authors like Roger Scruton (2002) and Bernard Lewis (2002) a free hand to write their Islamophobic treatises. The pre-9/11 Muslim bias in the US was also revealed by Wiki Leaks in 2013, releasing classified documents about Nixon administration’s 1972 “Operation Boulder” that targeted Arab Muslims.

In other words, the orientalist tradition in the West has never gone completely. As an illustration of this, we can read Sir John Keegan’s words in The Telegraph (October 8, 2001), in response to the invasion of Afghanistan:

“This war belongs within the much larger spectrum of a far older conflict between settled, creative, productive Westerners and predatory, destructive Orientals.”

Donald Trump, Alt-right, Golden Dawn or Marine Le Pen represent a movement which is informed by nativism. This movement exploits perceived and real fears to create (or preserve?) a discourse which tries to sustain the cultural demarcations through which self-identity of being European (white) is maintained. Preserving cultural segregation makes not only “othering” possible but is essential for internal cohesion and a superior self-image. But it is also important to remember that not Muslims alone are perceived as “other”. Blacks and Hispanics too are. In the past, Japanese, Chinese, and even Irish Catholics were also despised.

So the question is, would it matter to such nativist movements whether the “other” is cosmopolitan or not? Whether Rumi’s poetry was influenced by Islam? Or whether Muslims of the US inherent Rumi? For such a movement, the other is simply “the other” because they are different; they don’t share the same values. And hence they don’t belong.

If we look at how Nazis excluded the Jews, it becomes clear that the latter’s cultural heritage and cosmopolitan disposition hardly came in their aid. Though some Jews were let off on the consideration of being “prominent Jews” (for example, war veterans). Yet, in the words of historian Louis de Jong it “was a general practice to allow certain exceptions in order to be able to maintain the general rule all the more easily.” And ironically, Nazis had built anti-Jewish museums and libraries about which Hannah Arendt says in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963):

“We owe to this strange craze the preservation of many great cultural treasures of European Jewry.”

So when the Nazis were hounding Walter Benjamin—and he had to commit suicide in September 1940—it didn’t matter that his mysticism had Judaistic context or he was a close friend of the philosopher of Jewish Mysticism Gerhard Scholem. A Jew was a Jew for the Nazis. If it had mattered that a Sufi Muslim was somewhat better than a “usual” Muslim, then during the Gujrat pogrom, mobs would have spared the Sufi shrines. But they didn’t. Because Muslim was a Muslim for them; even if he was a Member of Parliament, it didn’t change their hatred.

Although the situation for Muslims is not as precarious as it was for Jews in the 1930s, but the way President Trump could openly sign executive orders banning Muslims on the Holocaust Memorial Day must raise alarm bells. His national security council includes dangerous people like Stephen Bannon. Moreover, the hate crime against Muslims in the US has increased. The Pew Research shows that 257 incidents of anti-Muslim hate crime occurred in 2015 that is a 67% increase from 2014. And yet, violence against Muslims has been manifesting in other subtler ways.

One is through physical violence, which is visited upon a Muslim on a street in the form of a hate crime, but another is the hidden violence of indifference, schadenfreude and sadism—the latter two pervade social media. The hidden violence of indifference typically manifests itself on such occasions when, for example, the bloody attacks in France (or on whites) evoke world-wide sympathies and symbolic solidary gestures but not when such (and much brutal) attacks happen against Muslims. This kind of hidden violence reminds one of George Bernard Shaw’s The Devil’s Disciple in which the minister Anthony Anderson tells his wife:

“The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that’s the essence of inhumanity.”

Thankfully, the recent demonstrations against the Muslim ban order have rekindled some hope.

In conclusion, I want to share an anecdote: One fine evening in 2013, my Indian friend walked into the common kitchen of our university dorm and he, surprised on seeing my newly grown beard, remarked with a toothy grin:

“Now you look like a terrorist. Ha! Ha! Ha!”

Of course he said this in jest, but I was deeply offended. However, the lesson this episode brought to me was this: your ardently secular, Rumi-loving friend may be nurturing racist, bigoted views without even realising it.


First published in Express Tribune on 6th Feb 2017:


You sit and hold your face

On the cusp of your hands

And outside the window

You see nothing


Your gaze is firm and intense

On the snow-capped happiness

It shimmers in its whole being

But tell nothing


A river races down the meadow

Its sorrow roars and flows

And flows down like a serpent

You listen to what it wants to say

You hear nothing


At a far off distance a soul sings

Big willows leaning on its body

You close the window and retreat

For the song says nothing


In your dreams

there is a light in the center

It glows and glows eternally

And everything moves towards it

But you

For you watch in silence

perhaps in awe and horror

You are alone, you see around

And there is nothing




24 January 2017


11:40 pm.






The Many Faces of Kashmiri Nationalism, A Review

Book: The Many Faces of Kashmiri Nationalism (From The Cold War To The Present Day)

Author: Nandita Haksar

Print Length: xvi + 335

Genre: Non Fiction / Narrative

Publisher: Speaking Tiger, New Delhi, 2015

ISBN: 978-93-85288-18-0

Reviewer: Muhammad Tahir

book cover

The Many Faces of Kashmiri Nationalism belongs to the narrative genre that has a long pedigree in the literature on Kashmir. This genre, in English language, was probably started in the late 19th century by the European orientalists like Walter Lawrence, Francis Younghusband, Tyndale Biscoe and others, who described Kashmir and Kashmiris from their subjective points of view — and oftentimes implied that Kashur was a mendacious character.

In the recent past, Humra Quraishi (Kashmir: The Untold Story, 2004), David Devadas (In Search of Future: The Story of Kashmir, 2007), and Justine Hardy (In the Valley of Mist, 2009), to name but a few have added to this corpus of narrative literature.

If Basharat Peer’s Curfewed Night (2008) provided a long overdue native perspective on Kashmir, the other works mentioned above, obviously, were an outsiders’ probing gaze on the natives. Since Haksar’s ancestors had long migrated out of Kashmir in the 19th century, and by her own admission she is an Indian by body and spirit, we can safely say that hers is a rather non-native or, as she would prefer, a liberal Indian’s perspective on Kashmir.

“I thought of it,” says Haksar in the book, “as a fight to defend Indian democracy, with the emphasis on Indian.” Here she is referring to Muhammad Afzal Guru’s case.

After Afzal was hanged in February 2013, Haksar and her colleague N D Pancholi — who also drafted Afzal’s mercy petition — had withdrawn as Guru family’s lawyers citing that their involvement had ruffled feathers of Indian nationalists and had invited “anti-national” label for them, and also their solidarity had been suspiciously perceived by some political groups in Kashmir. Therefore, in a way this book has provided Haksar a much-needed opportunity to salvage her image among those Indians who cast aspersions on her nationalistic credentials.

Throughout the book, Haskar emphasises that hers was essentially a political fight, because she wanted to “pave the way for another kind of politics” — open up more democratic space and won more friends for India among Kashmiris.

Sampat Prakash is the main protagonist in the book. He emerges as an audacious, passionate socialist who leads an influential labour organisation Low Paid Government Servants Federation, and through his tireless work he manages to get some important benefits for the working class people in both government and non-government sectors. Moreover, as an ardent believer of Kashmiriyat and Kashmiri nationalism, Sampat also briefly joined JKLF. Here he diligently accompanied Yasin Malik on his 2007 Safar-e-Azadi campaign and toured even “risky’ areas of Kashmir. Though, he considers this experience as a significant one, but a grudge remains: that his part in the campaign was not well acknowledged.

So, it is through Sampat’s recounting of his life-tale that Haksar tries to chart the history of the trade union movement in Jammu and Kashmir. This strategy pays off. Because Sampat has been a stupendously perceptive witness to many hitherto unknown events and intrigues in the political history of Kashmir, and he lays bare before the author perhaps the first historical account on trade unionism in Kashmir, providing interesting and insightful details about its major troughs and crests and its dramatis personae.


Another prominent figure in the book is Muhammad Afzal Guru, whom Haksar knew very well, and to whose family she extended unconditional hospitality at her Delhi home. Naturally, she is privy to many episodes and events around Afzal and Syed Abdur Rehman Geelani (Prof SAR Geelani) which have an intriguing and controversial character to them.

So, what really make these two characters, Afzal and Sampat, to stick together and allow author to weave a coherent narrative? For Haksar, Sampat represents a secular spirit within Kashmiri nationalism that is better represented by the syncretic culture of Kashmiriyat. Oddly enough, Haksar seems sceptical about this term, but Sampat believes in it and cites his experiences in the labour movement as its reflection. Afzal, on the other hand, is story of a Kashmiri nationalist, who started off as a secular JKLF activist, but overwhelming circumstances and a long jail term made him reflect deeper on life and its meanings and eventually took him into an Islamist position. For Haksar, these two ideological strands represented by these two Kashmiris define facets of Kashmiri nationalism in the post-1947 period.

While the author demonstrates that she empathetically understands Kashmiri people and their issues and criticises, and rightly so, the Indian state for its brutalities and suppression within Kashmir and its persistent policy of militaristic approach to the Kashmir conflict, there are certain problems in her narrative, however, which I want to highlight — I am interested in discursive strategies employed in the book.

Seemingly, Haksar is an advocate of Kashmiri Self-Determination, but in this book she seems to falter on this position at the very beginning when she writes “Afzal was born as a citizen of independent India.” This is a problematic assumption on which Vishal Bhardhwaj also tripped up in his movie Haider when the film rolls with the words: “Srinagar, India”. But, the more problematic aspects are certain tropes and apocryphal stories and statements that abound her narrative. As a self-professed liberal she seems predisposed to dislike other ideologies, especially Islamist, and that naturally brings certain biases into her narrative.

For example, she claims, without referencing any empirical study or survey, that 16 percent of Muslims in J&K are Salafist, and as an evidence we should see new mosques in Kashmir that are built on “Saudi architectural style” . This is a spurious claim because Saudi architectural style is a vague term and even if we accept it for argument’s sake, then Dargah Hazratbal shrine would count as a classic case in Kashmir, because it is modelled on “Medina mosque”.  For me, Saudi architectural style actually conjures up Basharat Peer’s 2012 New Yorker article “Modern Mecca” which describes the bulldozed heritage in that country!

I am reluctant to call it an Islamophobic streak but she does veer close to it on many occasions. For example, on page 240 she writes: “But the challenge before Sampat Prakash was not militant Islam, but the rise of militant Hinduism.” One is misled in believing that there will follow, perhaps for the sake of balance, a critical discussion on militant Hinduism. But that is not to be, and just some pages later, she comes back to write: “over unlimited kebabs and a few drinks at Barbeque Nation, he [Sampat] shared his concerns over the rise of Ahl-e-Hadith’s version of Islam [in Kashmir]”. Her focus again and again comes back to what she calls as “radical Islam”, but there is no actual discussion on “militant Hinduism” or Panun Kashmir’s fascist Hindutva.

That Kashmiris are cowardly and effeminate in nature is a peculiar trope to describe natives, a trope with a long pedigree that orientalist made quite use of till Edward Said ruined their party around 1978. But Haksar carries it all off with a blithe indifference and shows us how a “ferocious-looking militant” actually fainted at magician’s trick of slicing a women into two, and how this all seeming machismo and manliness of a bearded, Kalashnikov wielding young Kashmiri is nothing but pretension, because “Bismillah said before the insurgency Kashmiris used to faint at the sight of blood and would cry even if they saw an injured bird” (170).

Nandita Haksar with Afzal Guru Family

In uncritical terms, she describes Pandits as ingrained secular and scholarly people, while as Muslims as non-secular. This dichotomy is achieved through the character of Badruddin, who, we are told, was beaten up by a Muslim teacher because he couldn’t properly pronounce an Arabic word, but when Badruddin met a Kashmiri Pandit he “instilled in him a love of science”. Whereas kindhearted Pandit teacher emphasised on secular education, the Muslim teacher “introduced Badruddin to books by Maulana Maududi” (172). This dichotomous view perhaps explains why she is so sceptical about the notion of “Kashmiriyat” and seemingly negatively predisposed towards Kashmiri leaders.

Haksar also plays with the familiar boilerplate trope of proxy war, and for an effect she uses Kashmiri Muslim characters as channel for such articulation. Sample this: “The headmaster said the insurgency was revenge for the breaking up of Pakistan, and the creation of Bangladesh.” She also wrongly describes Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar as a “Pakistani militant”, ignoring the fact that he is a native of Downtown Srinagar where he is known as “Mushtaq Latram”. Moreover, while the book is supposedly about many facets of Kashmiri nationalism, yet the discussion on Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad runs disproportionately on more pages than the discussion about the emergence of the Kashmiri nationalist formations, which only gets passing mention. So, what purpose does a longer and recurrent discussion on Pakistan-based militant groups serve other than reinforcing the statist idea that the Kashmir armed struggle is a “proxy war”.

One of the problematics in her narrative is the strategy of false equivalency and false balance which comes to the fore in statements like these: ‘…thousands of Kashmiri were killed by militants and Indian security forces…’ (223). Notice the placement of militants before the Indian forces as an attempt to distort the fact that the Indian forces and the Kashmiri militants are not at parity — militarily; and while the former is essentially for systematically controlling and brutalising Kashmiris on behalf of the post-colonial state, the latter emerges from and acts on behalf of the occupied Kashmiris and receives the popular support.

One of the most preposterous statements in the book was perhaps this: “He [Kuka Parray] had returned a disappointed man as he felt that Pakistan was not helping Kashmir but destroying its ethos” (167). By this logic Kuka Parray must have been a man of ethics, principles, and compassion. But Haksar does not tell us on whose behalf he, in turn, started destroying the Kashmiri ethos by creating a brigade of brutal renegades who tortured and killed people with impunity, raped women, razed down houses, smuggled timber and did all the terrible things?

The most telling example of the gaps in her narrative, though, is her take on the uprisings since 2008. She frames the 2008 mass civil agitation as a clash of “religious fundamentalism”, conveniently ignoring that the 2008 mass protests had assumed a nationalist character, turning into one of the largest anti-India uprisings in the 21st century Kashmir; that many elite Indian newspapers had in fact taken notice and carried opinion pieces advocating independence for Kashmir; that 2008 was in fact a watershed moment for the Kashmiri nationalist movement as it mobilised hundreds of thousands of people who demanded end to the Indian militarised occupation in Kashmir; that the 2008 mass agitation also deflated the Indian statist, and predominant Indian civil society, discourse of ‘Pakistan’s proxy war’ and brought international focus on the Self-Determination movement of Kashmiris. And yet, curiously, the 2009 Asiya and Neelofar rape and murder case and the 2010 mass civil uprising is completely omitted in the book.

Her biases also reflect in the way she peddles unsubstantiated claims and takes political rhetoric for reality: “Kashmir treated Jammu like its colony”, or “while much money had been spent to develop tourism in Kashmir, nothing had been done for Jammu” (245). These terms “Colony” and “Nothing” are casually and uncritically thrown in the sentences.

In the Afterword, Haksar briefly dips into the holy waters of the conflict resolution and here she disappoints by taking the route of chimera called Insaniyat a la Prime Ministers of India when they pop in Kashmir to deliver their political homilies to arranged audiences every now and then, and leaving us with the nagging question as always: what does she really mean when she says I support Kashmiris right to decide their own future?

Post-script: When self-professed liberal Indians begin to describe Kashmiris, the experience dictates that the latter should always take their words with a large pinch of salt.


First published in Kashmir Life on April 5, 2016:

Godman’s Goose

In 1992 three Pulwama villages invoked draw-of-lots to decide where their faith-healer Syed Gayas-ud-din Bukhari should stay. Babhaar, a dusky Pulwama hamlet won. Quickly, the god-man migrated out of his native Rupwen village in Budgam.

Bukhari’s murid (follower), sheep-herder Dost Muhammad Wagay gave-up sheep-husbandry and followed his Pir to Babhar. As a watchman of Pir’s new home, Dost stayed put there, ever since.

The new Babhar residence of the Pir remained crowded with his followers, who visited him regularly. For establishing a spiritual centre by Pir, Babhar’s four zamindars (landowners) — Syeda Begum (Mrs Abdul Ahad Malik), Ghulam Mohammad Mir, Farooq Ahmad Sheikh, and Ali Mohammad Sheikh — gifted land. Pir’s popularity had surged donations and offerings. Within a decade, Pir’s new residence flourished into a vibrant spiritual centre, attracting people from all social and economic classes.

“Even the rich and influential would pay a visit here,” says Dost Muhammad, now a frail elderly in his 60’s.

The seminary known as Darul Aloom Rohani Markaz, tucked inside dense apple orchards, is spread over 6.6 kanals. Inside the walled seminary, air of tranquility and silence pervades. Shrubs and evergreens encircle its manicured garden.

Amidst this serene quietude stand a couple of structures. Right at the entry, a two-level concrete and glass structure, painted in white and green, greets a visitor. It is the Rohani Markaz (spiritual centre).

“This is the place where Pir Sahib used to sit with his followers,” explains Dost Muhammad. “It is now locked, but if you peep through the glass windows you can see his framed pictures inside.”

On the right side is a well furnished white varnished mosque, decked with traditional pagoda-style tin roof. Abutting the mosque on the far side rests Bukhari in his tomb.

The place where Pir used to sit.

Pir’s loyal followers still visit his white-washed brick and mortar tomb — burning incense sticks around it, hanging garlands, tying votive threads on the window handle bars. They donate money in the brown steel safe that sits comfortably at the tomb’s entrance.

“His murids regularly visit the shrine and organize niyaz (a feast in somebody’s memory),” Dost Muhammad informed while advising to remove shoes before stepping on the tomb steps.

There are other structures around also. A two storey building used as a dormitory for the students of the Darul Aloom, a concrete one storey building where the Pir used to sit after migration, a big store house, and a stone plinth of an abandoned construction — now converted into a kitchen garden.

“Previously this place thrived on the footfalls,” says Dost, “politicians, police officers would come here. It was always a lively place.” But not anymore.

Currently, all is not well with this serene habitat. After Pir’s death in March 2009, the 6.6 kanal property has turned into a site of dispute, dividing relatives and the villagers. The centre for community’s spiritual growth has now become a devise issue.

The division is unique. On one side stands Pir’s 58-year-old son Syed Mukhtar Ahmad Bukhari, and Majeed, one of the land donors. Opposing them are Syed Bashir Ahmad Andrabi (Pir’s son-in-law) and the three remaining land donors. The dispute is already seven year old. They lodged FIRs and petitioned courts, and on one occasion, entered into physical brawl also.

Grave of Pir's mother

Pir’s son Mukhtar and his supporters hold that since the seminary’s property belonged to the Pir, his children are its natural and legal inheritors.

Opponents, however, contend that the land was gifted for building a religious institution — a Takeer (Trust) — and not as a personal property.

“When my illiterate father and aunt [Syeda Begum] donated their ancestral land they did it for the sole purpose of establishment of a Trust,” says Abdul Qayoom, son of a land-donor Ghulam Muhammad Mir. “After Pir’s death, his son, who had rarely visited the seminary, claimed ownership.”

Qayoom alleges that Mukhtar even sold seminary’s land at Sombur, in Pampore outskirts, which Pir had purchased from the donations raised at Babhar centre.

But Mukhtar refutes the allegation. “We (one son and four daughters of Bukhari) are the rightful owners of everything that our father owned, and only an owner can sell the property,” he explained.

What makes the case a curious family dispute over property is the presence of Syed Bashir Ahmad, Pir’s son-in-law, in the opposition camp. Working in Handicrafts department, he lives in Srinagar. Presently, the seminary is in occupation of the group that Bashir supports.

Qayoom says more than 100 students are currently enrolled in the seminary, functioning under the guidance of Maulana Shakeel ul Rehman. “It was the wasiyat (will)” says Qayoom, “of the Pir Sahib that Syed Bashir Ahmad should become his spiritual janasheen (successor)”.

Mukhtar neither accepts his brother-in-law as Bukhari’s ‘spiritual’ successor nor does he accept that the land, including the seminary, belongs to any institution.

“My brother-in-law in cahoots with the other party started this dispute,” Mukhtar said. “He claimed he is entitled to care-taking of the property. However, we filed a case in the civil court against him and the Pulwama court has issued a stay order, barring his entry into the premises.”

Qayoom argues that seminary cannot become a personal property because different government departments have also donated to it: toilets by Block Development Office, funds donated by MLAs and Deputy Commissioner, and RDA.

“Actually it is our land donated for a purpose,” explains Qayoom. “If they try to make it a personal property we will take it back.”

When the property transfer was under process in 2010, the opposing group had submitted their objections to the Additional DC Pulwama before 90 days. But, they alleged, a revenue officer was influenced to ensure the land ownership to Pir’s son.

Three years ahead of his death, Qayoom claims, Pir had written a wasiyat stating the property belongs to the Trust and there are witnesses to vouch for that. These documents, however, were kept by a judge.

Mukhtar alleged that his opponents joined by Maulvi Shakeel ur Rehman started Darul Aloom after evicting his family forcefully from the property in June 2010.

Ruhani Markaz

“We had to leave as we feared for our lives,” says Mukhtar. “We had no other option. The case is now pending with DC Pulwama.”

On June 26, 2010 at 5 pm, according to Mukhtar, some 5 to 7 people barged into the seminary premises wielding sticks. They attacked his family and few other people. Mukhtar was with a neighbour at the time, but his son was at the seminary. In the melee one Mohammad Abbas Sheikh was critically injured and hospitalised.

But the opposing group has a different narration about the June 26 incident. They allege that men supporting Mukhtar attacked their women Syeda Begum and Saja Begum, then in their 60’s.

Both the groups registered cases against each other with police. “We lodged an FIR against physical assault. They lodged a counter FIR alleging molestation of old women,” says Abdul Majeed, another resident whose family had also donated 2 kanals of land to the Pir in 1998. But unlike other three families he supports Mukhtar’s right to inheritance, insisting the land transfer to the Pir was through a gift deed.

“The Quran and Sharia makes the inheritance clear,” says Majeed, “Property transfers to legal heirs. The land was given to Pir in 1992 and till 2009 there was no Darul Aloom around. He died in 2009 and after three months the property was transferred to his children.”

Majeed alleges that opponents have “forcefully” brought poor kids from remote corners of Kashmir to the seminary to keep it running. “At the moment, i guess, there must be barely 15 students enrolled. They just want to make money through it. They want the donated land back and talk of Trust is just a smokescreen,” he says.

But why didn’t police help them if the court, as he claimed, had ruled in their favour?

“I approached the police several times. Even I visited the then SSP. But they are dragging the case. Police informed the court that they failed to locate the disputed land site!”

Police, this writer talked to, said they are not authorised to talk. Off the record, however, they said the jurisdiction of the case lies with the revenue authorities. “Legally speaking, we can just provide protection but cannot evict any party,” says a police man at Police Station Pulwama.

Qayoom alleges that Majeed is siding with Mukhtar because one of his relatives, the erstwhile general secretary of the Trust, has misappropriated cash and gold that came as donation.

“He was the bank account holder on behalf of the Trust and I have evidences against him,” alleges Qayoom. “He used Rs 75 lakh of seminary money for the construction of his own house.’’

Majeed refutes these allegations.

Mukhtar, a deputy secretary in Legislative Assembly, says the land donators lack even a shred of evidence to prove that they gave land for the Trust.

“It is a 20 years old thing,” says Mukhtar, “why was the Trust not legally registered in these years? When he (Pir) was alive why didn’t they ask him to register the Trust? If the lands transfer documents were executed in 1995 why didn’t they follow it up till 2009?”

Dost Muhammad

Admitting to the existence of a “religious centre” on the site, Mukhtar said: “it is our pesha [profession] and our livelihood depends on it. Our forefathers too were part of it. We are in this business for the last 100 years or so.”

Hinting at the traditional association of certain castes with the pesha, Mukhtar says his brother-in-law is no Andrabi, but a Shah. “His claims on enrolment make no sense as the property ultimately belongs to me. They are just illegal trespassers occupying the premises against court orders,” asserts Mukhtar.

Talking strictly within the legal framework of inheritance, Mukhtar admitted selling a land plot at Druss. “Suppose I have intention to build a mosque but I die suddenly and I have legal heirs, isn’t it their choice whether they build it or not?” he asked. “His (Pir’s) intentions were indeed noble, but he couldn’t complete it, so what can one do! It is now the discretion of his legal heirs whether they want to continue their father’s mission or use it for their own purpose. Others have no business meddling in this.” He said same argument holds true for another land sale at Sombur.

Asked about his father’s intention in purchasing the Sombur land, Mukhtar explained thus: “If Mirwaiz Kashmir purchases a land that does not mean that he will necessarily build a mosque everywhere.”

“One has his family to look after also. Rohaniyat (spirituality) is fine but one has to live also.”

At ground zero, the new generation is cracking jokes. “The Pir duped the naïve peasants,” one young man, claiming to be equidistant from the warring factions, said. He, however, believed the seminary, if permitted to grow, would contribute positively to the community.

“If the Pir has transferred the seminary property to his heirs, it is a clear case of fraud,” said Tariq Ahmad, a PhD scholar and a Babhar native. “Such cases have made people increasingly wary about pir-muridi system.”

Seminary hostel.

Interestingly, the faith in Pir was unquestioned among warring factions. Village majority believes that Wasiyat must prevail.

Interestingly, the watchman Dost Muhammad’s existence is lost to the parties. He has diligently taken care of the seminary for the last 20 years, at times even sleeping empty stomach. He does not get any salary, but his solemn faith in his Pir keeps him going. Elderly Dost somehow managing a meagre sustenance, tending the kitchen garden and doing the domestic chores.

“Pir Sahib told me,” Dost said with a clear conviction in his soft voice, “If I work here, I will get great rewards in the life hereafter.”


First published in Kashmir Life on 21 June 2016: